PBS: Anyone who gets cable TV or satellite in the U.S. has noticed a pronounced trend over the years: their monthly bill keeps going up. Sure, you can get lots of channels, plus HD channels and DVR functions, but those usually cost extra. According to research from Centris (PDF), the average digital cable bill was nearly $75 last year, and the average monthly satellite TV bill was $69. What’s causing those bills to skyrocket? A lack of competition among cable and satellite providers, and the rising costs of programming. Like other traditional media, TV networks (both cable and broadcast) are being squeezed by lower advertising income, and think they can just keep raising the cable bills indefinitely. Thanks to the rise of Netflix, Hulu and hardware like the Roku box and Apple TV, cutting the cord to cable TV doesn’t mean cutting yourself off from your favorite shows and channels. While past experiments at bringing together the web and TV (such as WebTV) have failed, the recent recession has pushed people to pursue their own convergence projects that enable them to watch web content on their TV. Depending on various living room setups and viewing habits, making the changeover from cable to online TV can be complex and maddening. But you’re sure to save a bundle of money.The first thing to do when cutting the cord is list the shows you watch regularly, and your favorite TV channels. Next, do a little online research to find out whether those shows appear on the channel’s streaming sites (such as NBC.com, CBS.com, etc.) or on Hulu or YouTube. MORE
WIRED: The stage is set for a showdown between television networks and cable/satellite TV services, thanks to the internet. It won’t happen overnight, but your monthly cable or satellite bill could eventually be replaced by a monthly bill from Hulu, an online service that streams TV shows on demand. For $10 a month, viewers will reportedly have access to a wider selection of shows than the free, ad-supported version Hulu currently offers. The service would work on PCs and specialized devices such as the iPad, videogame consoles and set-top boxes. The company plans to test a version of this “Hulu Plus” subscription, an expected development, with select users as early as this month to find out whether they’ll will bite, according to sources cited by the Wall Street Journal and All Things Digital. In order for consumers to pay for a video service like that, it will need to be reasonably comprehensive. So it’s no accident that the same week Hulu’s subscription plans came to light, a Bloomberg report surfaced that the company is talking with CBS, Viacom and Time Warner’s television studio divisions to add their shows. That would be on top of a line-up that already includes “Fox, NBC Universal, ABC, ABC Family, Biography, Lionsgate, Endemol, MGM, MTV Networks, National Geographic, Digital Rights Group, Paramount, PBS, Sony Pictures Television, Warner Bros. and more,” including Wired.com. MORE
UPDATE: Online video site Hulu has launched a $9.99-per-month paid section, under pressure from its media company parents to generate a profit. A new tab opened up on the site directing users to Hulu Plus, a section that shows current season episodes of “Glee,” “The Office,” “House,” and other shows from broadcasters ABC, Fox and NBC. The service also allows viewing of multiple back seasons of shows. MORE
ARS TECHNICA: Rodriguez also argues that the economics of the media world that Fisher hopes for have yet to be worked out, to put it mildly. By and large, Hulu programming has already been shown somewhere else first, and that’s where it made its money via access fees or advertising. As for those iTunes TV pay-per-downloads, they can add up pretty fast, Rodriguez notes. Even Fisher gets around to acknowledging this in a footnote at the end of his article. “Of course, I know that cable is cheaper because it bundles,” he writes. “Five hours of TV a day multiplied by $2 per hour-long show would mean $300 a month on cable.” And that, says CableTechTalk, is why pleasant dreams of consumers “canceling their subscriptions or deciding not to pay their cable bill, meanwhile educating each other on how to find other ways to get the same programming,” are futile. “You can’t duplicate your cable line-up online for free. Not yet,” Rodriguez reacts. “And I have difficulty seeing a future in which you will.”
Therein lies the rub. As I’ve argued before in the case of podcasting, the millions of Americans struggling to get themselves and their kids through this recession haven’t got the time to sort through all this crazy stuff—much less sit around on chat boards “educating each other on how to find other ways to get the same programming.” That’s a huge reason why cable TV prevails. It’s expensive, but it offers lots of choices in a predictable format at a relatively accessible price.
So if advocates of a true non-cable- or telco-centric video model want that vision to prevail, they’re going to have to look to the state as well as the market for solutions. Everyone gets all touchy about the government creating business models, but let’s face it, that’s how it has worked from the beginning. In the formative years of television, the Federal Communications Commission discouraged the expansion of cable service, arguing that all consumers should get access to free TV broadcasting first. Then in the 1970s and 1980s Congress rewrote the rules, unleashing cable’s power. In 1996 it revised the regulations again, encouraging cable to migrate to the Internet. MORE
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